Lynn Woolsey

University of Phoenix Commencement Speech - July 16, 1995

Lynn Woolsey
July 16, 1995— San Jose, Arizona
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University Of Phoenix-San Jose Campus Vice President Barker, Vice President Palmer, Distinguished Faculty, Honored Graduates, Parents, Family, and Friends: It is an honor to be with you today on this very special and important occasion--the commencement celebration of the University of Pheonix.

To the Class of 1995: Congratulations! We are so very proud of you, and you can certainly be proud of yourselves!

In fact, I think you can be even prouder than the average college graduate, because most of you are working professionals, many with families, who had to balance yourselves on a tightrope in order to graduate. You have not just earned a degree, you have completed an obstacle course!

I was not unlike many of you 15 years ago. In 1980, at the ripe old age of 42, I received my Bachelors Degree in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior from the University of San Francisco, as part of their professional students program.

My son, Ed, who was 16 at the time, said that he had never seen me happier than on my graduation day. And, he was right! On that day, I had completed something that I had started, but not finished, 23 years earlier.

I hope that each of you feel the same sense of joy and accomplishment that I felt back then because you deserve to.

You've reached a milestone in your life. You worked hard. You stuck to your dreams, and we acknowledge your accomplishment.

But, with your degree today comes responsibility. Responsibility to contribute to our community, and make good on the investment we have made in your education.

That responsibility begins tomorrow. Not when you get that promotion you are working toward. Not when you are making a comfortable salary. Not when you retire. But, tomorrow!

Yes, we--your spouses, children, parents, friends, and teachers--are here to honor your skills and determination. But, more importantly, we are here to tell you not to waste them.

It is not enough to take your well deserved diploma and hang it on your wall to admire for yourself: others must benefit from your talents.

It is not enough to grow in your career: you must also lift up those who do not have the advantages you have.

It is not enough to become financially successful or powerful: you must also empower others, and make it possible for them to succeed.

You can not afford to wait a lifetime to make your contribution, nor can the world afford to wait any longer for it. You must begin tomorrow!

Listen to the words of Mary Fisher, the courageous and eloquent AIDS activist and mother of two children. I quote from her commencement speech to the Class of 1993 at Trinity College. She said, "All roads end at the same place. But along the road, if we are remarkably gifted, we will discover a simple truth: that the length of our life is less important than its depth."

We will all do good to live by the example and words of Mary Fisher--a woman who might have chosen to be a victim, but instead dedicated her life to fighting for all Americans with this disease--man, woman, and child; black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay.

On the other hand, we will all do poorly if we continue to follow the "us versus them" mentality which pervades the political debate these days in Washington.

Just turn on C-SPAN, any day of the week, and you'll see this divisiveness. You'll see it in debates on education; welfare reform; and student aid.

Someone will get up and talk about their humble beginnings, and how they lifted themselves up by their bootstraps. But, the very next minute, they'll be crusading to rip the safety net out from under children, families, and seniors.

The current debate over cutting financial aid for college students is a good example.

Student aid is a ladder of opportunity...a way for students and families to make a better life for themselves and their children.

But, at a time when we should be looking to make higher education more affordable, many of my colleagues who used the student aid ladder, now want to pull it up behind them. In doing so, they will deny that very same ladder of opportunity to millions of Americans.

This righteous attitude of "I did it, so why can't you" has no place in a national dialogue. It has no place because it leads to elitist and dangerous policy. I object to it, and you should, too.

We must object to it because each of us shares the responsibility to make life better for those who are less fortunate, those who are sick, or those who are uneducated.

I believe the best way to do that is to provide a quality education to all Americans.

You see, I know firsthand about the importance of education because 27 years ago, I was a single, working mother receiving no child support. I was forced to go on welfare, even though I was employed, in order to give my three small children, ages 1, 3, and 5, the health care, child care, and food they needed.

Fortunately, I had advantages that many mothers on welfare don't. I had an education. I had graduated high school and had some college. I had good job skills. My kids were healthy and so was I. And, you know I was assertive!

But, I will never, not for one minute, think that just because I made it, so can others in need--others with fewer advantages, others with less of an education, or no education at all.

That experience never leaves me.

As a human resources manager at a high-tech manufacturing company in Marin County, I implemented hiring and training programs for less advantaged workers.

As a Petaluma City Council member, I helped establish Sonoma County's first homeless shelter and a rental-assistance program for low-income families.

Now, as a member of Congress, I have dedicated myself to making sure our nation invests in education because it is the best way to lift up all Americans.

Education is central to solving the problems facing our nation.

When we invest in education, we get people off welfare. And, for Pete's sake, we prevent women and children from having to go on welfare in the first place.

When we invest in education, we prevent crime and violence. When we invest in education, we increase respect for our health, our environment, and, we even increase respect for each other. Above all, when we invest in education, we prepare people like you for high-skilled, high-wage jobs.

That is why, for the life of me, I cannot understand why some in Congress want to cut and gut education and job training programs.

Just this week, a key Congressional Committee made $9.3 billion in cuts to local schools, Head Start, and job training in the middle of the night when most of us were sleeping. Some of us are calling it the "midnight massacre."

Well, it's time for this nation to wake up and tell Washington to get its priorities straight.

We've got to oppose these efforts tooth and nail, and fight to make sure this country invests in our most important special interest: our children.

I challenge each of you to join me. Are all of you prepared to work to change the values of this nation so that education becomes a priority? Are you committed to making sure all children enter the classroom ready to learn so teachers can do what they do best--teach?" Are you willing to invest in all children--so that this nation will be competitive in the 21st Century, so that all people, not just college graduates, are prepared to do useful work, earn a livable wage, and feel good about themselves?

I hope so. I hope so, because you have proven yourselves today to be true go-getters. Now, in turn, you must become go-givers.

You don't need to run for elected office, but you must get involved in your community and take responsibility for what is going on around you.

With your degree, you have already proven that you can succeed. Now, you must use your talents, which have been perfected here at the University of Phoenix, to lift others up. If you do, you will add great depth to your character. And, your life, and the lives of those you have touched, will be all the more valuable.

That challenge, my friends, starts tomorrow.

Yes, you have earned the right to celebrate today. But, you have not yet earned the privilege to retreat for good into the night.

You now know that the world deserves more of you, and that we--your family, your friends and teachers--expect more of you.

Tonight have fun [smile]. Take care of yourselves, and enjoy your success. You deserve it.

Tomorrow, get going!

Congratulations, you are our future.